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Science Always Evolves; Magic Doesn't

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NASA Discovers Intersteller 'Chocolate'

from Christian Science Monitor

To solve the mystery of life's origin, scientists can no longer focus solely on Earth. They must take the entire universe into account. Reason: the discovery of nitrogen-carrying aromatic hydrocarbons throughout the universe.

Prior to their recent discovery in space, scientists had thought these biologically important molecules were unique to Earth. One type is the main ingredient in chocolate. Others carry genetic information in DNA.

The existence of these molecules in interstellar space "was considered impossible" 20 years ago, explains Louis Allamandola, who carried out this research with colleagues at the NASA Ames Research Center. "Now, we know better...As a class, they are more abundant than all other known interstellar polyatomic molecules combined."

The finding, published in the Astrophysical Journal earlier this month, has profound significance for the occurrence of organic life. These kinds of molecules are key ingredients in the primordial chemical soup from which scientists think organic life may have arisen.

"This new work shows that the early chemical steps believed to be important for the origin of life do not require a previously formed planet to occur," the Ames announcement explains. "Instead, some of the chemicals are already present throughout space long before planet formation occurs and, if they land in a hospitable environment, can help jump-start the origin of life."

The notion that earthly life got a helping hand from space harks back to the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras 2,500 years ago. Modern scientists have kicked the idea around for over a century and in recent decades, it has become clear that comets and meteorites bring biologically important chemicals to Earth.

The report exemplifies the kind of 180-degree change in scientific perspective that happens when new research tools uncover new facts.


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